In an era of innovation like today, it is important that we make sure that we are using our tools rather than it being the other way around. One of the many ways to do this is by making sure that your software is free. Now the term free may make someone think of shareware software such as WinRAR or "free" games that The Epic Store gives out, but this is not free. This is gracias software. This software comes free of charge, but does not afford you the fundamental freedoms of owning a piece of software. These fundamental freedoms are the real prize in question, but having something free of cost is preferable to paying. The fundamental freedoms are are as follows:
- The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1).
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others (freedom 2).
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3).
Each of these reasons has a purpose for being here; they all have sound reasoning for being in place: to protect user freedom, now, to most users freedom 0 is all that is needed, but, users will still benefit from freedom 1 to 3 being secured:
This first freedom should be a no-brainier, even the foundation that wrote these freedoms, The FSF, thought it was so obvious they didn't even include it at first, but in the modern age of computing, issues like DRM crop up to ruin someone's freedom to use software. Now this could be games, it could be music, or it could even be ebooks. A list of more examples of this can be found here, but the point is someone is telling you how to use something you own. They are telling you how to use your software, your hardware, and your bandwidth or else be cut off from using something that you own. This is not ideal for the end user who (likely) purchased the item and just wishes to use it as they please.
Now there are people who defend the idea of the user not having the zeroth freedom, to this I offer rebuttals:
The claim of theft has to be the weakest. This has the presumption that intellectual property is property. This claim is extremely erroneous when you ask the question of what the person is really losing. A rebuttal could be "profit", but would out competing someone in the market (and therefore taking someone's profit) be theft worthy of fines or jail time? No, of course not. More elaboration and detail on this topic can be found here.
While yes, it is more profitable to harm your customer, but it isn't right as the customer has purchased a copy of the software. This would be like buying a washing machine and only being able to clean socks with it. It has the full capabilities to do much more, but the manufacturer stops the end user from doing it to sell more washing machines. Yes, its more profitable, but yes to do it is unethical. Unethical business should be minimized to make sure that the market remains an arbiter of freedom rather than becoming a tyrant over the material life.
This freedom encompasses the idea of an Open Source program. The source code to a program is required for this freedom to be given. This is essential for the "change it so it does your computing as you wish" part of the freedom, as when a program's source code is not supplied, it is almost impossible to modify it to however the user wants. Under a non-free model, if the end user would like to patch the program to work on a certain system, they cannot. If a user wants to study the internal workings to get a better understanding of programming conventions, they cannot. If the end user wants to take the code and modify it in a unique way for his own enjoyment, he cannot. This is not ideal for all parties. The user doesn't get to have the freedom of modifying the program and the proprietor cannot benefit their program from using the code the user made. This is a loose-loose for making a good product.
I'm not a coder/nerd/techfreak so why should I care?
This freedom alone wont help you, but in combination with freedom 3 this can help a normal person greatly. Wait until then to see a proper reason to care.
But wont making code open to the public make code insecure?
This is only the case if one relies on a security by obscurity form of working. If the code was public from day one, the entire programming community can vet and test the code to make sure it is as secure as possible. By keeping it behind closed doors, it minimizes the surface area for attack, but also minimizes the surface area for patches. So when (not if, but when) a bug is discovered, it will be abused for much longer. Bugs do happen in open source programs, but they can easily be patched once the main developers are notified by a sleuth.
Wont open source code enable piracy?
Yes, but piracy is not an issue when a different business practice is adopted. Instead of selling rights to use the software, instead profit could be generated by:
- Still selling the software as you would any other way, just providing source code when requested
- Offering Enterprise versions of the software that is better vetted
- Offering contracts to support the software
- Offering exceptions to licensing so that the software can be used in proprietary software (ShareAlike/GPL only)
- Selling things around the software (Music, development plans, artbooks)
- Offering bounties in the software: people pay for you to add a feature
- Consulting work
- Training for use of the software
- Offering a service for the software in question
- The Beekeeper Model
In most cases, good developers, rather than just the merit of developing something, makes a product fly. This is ideal for all parties. Good developers make good products and good products make happy customers. This model isn't the most profitable, but it is the best for making a good product
This sounds great, but couldn't someone just restrict the binary (or executable) to make money? (Free vs Open Source)
Yes and this is where the distinction between free software and open source comes in. If the source code is free to be seen, it is open source, but if it also allows the freedom to modify and share, then it is free. Ideally software should strive to be free as possible, but some economic constraints can make a developer choose a less free option. This isn't ideal, but can be tolerated so long as this first freedom is secured and a plan for freedom is drafted. This model can work fine for something like Video Games (ideally though, these games shouldn't be made for profit, but instead for enjoyment. The artform first, the profit next). If a developer offers its source code up front, but restricts binaries, he can make more money by selling binary distribution rights, but at some point the transition to total freedom should be enjoyed (possibly near the end-of-developer support; akin to the patent system). The end goal should be software freedom, and since software freedom is a gradient, it is best we support anything and everything that gets closer to that end goal.
Freedom 2 is a freedom that everyone participates in some way, shape, or form. If you have ever copied media and shared it to someone else (such as a song, a program, a picture, or a video) you are using Freedom 2. This Freedom is commonly practiced among pirates and posters alike who naturally share content as a means of cultural interaction. However, non-free licensing stomps on this sharing. This is not ideal and leads to Freedom 0 being restricted to try to counter this (usually via DRM). Culture and information naturally flows, and since programs, pictures, music, and video are all intellectual rather than physical, they too will flow with culture. To attempt to stomp on this is an attempt to stomp on the sharing of culture.
But the artists are starving!
This notion of entitlement to monetary value for something thousands are willing to do for free is absurd. Its a free market and free pricing is hard to compete with, but offers so much in terms of quality to this world. So instead of restricting the market for offering what others are offering for free, how about getting good enough to start asking for pay for the work done. This option or a proper, physical job is ideal. There are people who make music, draw photos, make videos, and create programs that are some of the most impressive works of the decade purely out of desire to do that, and they all started by doing it for free. So instead of whining about not getting a "fair share" of other people's money, how about the artist ante up to the market and get good enough to ask for pay.
If not selling rights, then what else?
As listed in the rebuttal to "Wont open source code enable piracy?", there are plenty of options for artists of all backgrounds to go off of. All of those are still valid for programmers, video creators, musicians, etc. The "offering a service" suggestion comes to mind, many people need specific music, video work, pictures taken, or programs, so how about instead of complaining about sharing, fill a niche.
This final freedom is vital for the everyman to profiteer from free software and free culture: the allowance to share remixes. Without this, libre software is totally useless to most people as no one can share the fruits of their labor. Though, with this freedom respected any project can be forked, remixed, and shared in a way that benefits the end user. Without this idea, GNU/Linux could not have proliferated, GPL'ed abandonware could never be saved, and many different tools and applications would simply not exist due to being based on others. This final freedom makes sure that the end user, no matter who, can benefit from all the freedoms even without technical skills. This constructiveness rather than trade secrets allows freedom respecting software to become the de-facto control over most back end, quite a lot of front end, and even having a good share in the desktop market share. Without this freedom, all the work done would just be hobby work and would never produce anything fruitful, but, since this freedom has been respected in many libre licenses, everyone benefits.
I have yet to come across any opposition to this area, but if someone can supply some, I will kindly counter.
Credit goes to the FSF for the list of freedoms. Link can be found here.